I’d tried to tell him not to take his new Luke Skywalker figurine to Preschool with him. But he was so proud of it and excited to show it off. Then somewhere on the playground he lost it in the sand — and no doubt someone picked it up. He’d been crying for an hour. To distract him (after telling him we’d go look for another one, which we never did find), I’d taken him to McDonalds and we were now going to the library. I parked on the other side of the street so we could walk through the shade of the park. He continued to cry and repeat the story of Luke’s demise. I continued (in my foolishness off-handedness) to reassure him we’d find another.
I hadn’t noticed the old man sitting on the bench at first. We were passing the park playground, and after one last recounting of Luke’s demise, Bran bounded off to play on the swings for a few minutes. As I stood there and watched, the man spoke up.
“You need to teach him how to let go of that.”
“His lost toy. He needs to learn how to grieve his loss.”
Apparently the old man had heard Brandon repeating his story and taken an interest in it. He moved over on the bench so there was room for two. I sat down where I could keep an eye on Bran.
“I’ll get him a new one,” I said, just to make conversation.
“But you might not. And then he needs to know how to grieve what he’s lost. Not everything comes back to you, you know.”
His words were prophetic, of course, as I never did find another Luke.
“It’s just a toy.”
“Not to him.”
Over the next ten minutes I was the recipient of some of the most profound life advice I’ve ever gotten.
“It’s a mistake, not learning to grieve things. Losses. Big or little. If you can’t grieve well,” he said, “you won’t be able to live well. You’ll never find any peace. I know. I’ve been trying to find some peace since my wife died and my family broke apart.”
His story was that of a father who drank his wife, quite literally, into an early grave, and how their children had abandoned him. Seems he had done everything he could to make things right between him and his kids, but only after 14 years, when he had finally admitted his own culpability in her death, had he begun to grieve his part in it.
“And that’s when I found my peace.”
I nodded, hearing the words of truth in his story, thinking of my difficult relationship with my own mother. Perhaps that’s what I needed to do, I thought. Grieve the loss of the relationship I truly wanted to have with her so I could get on with the way things really were.
He got up from the bench, picked up his crumpled lunch sack and dropped it into the garbage container near by. Turning, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Don’t wait. Teach your boy how to grieve his losses so he can take them in stride.” He looked at me intuitively and finished, “You, too.”
With a wave of his hand and a sad smile, he walked off down the shady sidewalk toward the library leaving me with some life-changing advice that I’m still struggling to come to grips with. But the older I get, the more I can see if I’d been able to let go of things of the past in a healthy way, my life wouldn’t have been lived on such an emotional roller coaster.
I never did get the man’s name, nor he mine, but that was one of the most worthwhile ten minutes I’ve ever spent with anyone. Too bad at 33 years-old I didn’t have enough sense to take him more seriously.